Picture: Me, in Palmeira Square, close to where a huge Bronze Age burial mound once stood.
This is a little story about how local history inspired me to write, The Amber Pendant.
A magnificent Bronze Age burial mound use to sit in the middle of Hove, and it even gave Hove its name, as it comes from the Old Danish word Hof – which means burial ground.
There were a few burial mounds dotted between the South Downs and the shore in Hove. But, the biggest by far, was the mound situated close to where Palmeira Square sits now. It stood twenty feet tall, and was so big some people didn’t think it was a burial mound at all but just an unusual hillock. The field it sat in was known locally as Cony Barrow. Cony is the old word for rabbit, and barrow is another name for a burial mound – which conjures up quite a tranquil picture in my mind.
The mound was close enough to the shore that it could be seen from far out to sea, just like the burial described in the ancient story of Beowulf.
It is said that during Easter celebrations the local people use to link hands around Hove’s mound and play the traditional game of Kiss in the Ring – which has its roots in Pagan Springtime celebrations. It is curious to imagine how far back this custom went – it could well be very ancient indeed.
But this all stopped in 1856, when the mound was flattened during the development of the Palmeira Square area. I wonder how scared the workman felt when their spade hit the solid wood of the coffin buried deep inside?
Some say the coffin was a hollowed-out tree trunk, others that it was crafted from wooden boards. But, either way, once the coffin came into contact with the air it crumbled to dust, revealing ancient human bones nestled inside.
The skeletal remains had a number of burial goods placed on the chest area. The most spectacular of these was a cup crafted from Baltic amber. A beautiful and curious object, it looks more like a modern-day teacup than a chalice or a beaker. Incredibly, it’s over 3,000 years old!
Hove’s Amber Cup: (Picture credit: Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)
In 1856, once all the items of value were removed from the grave, the workman were told to cart away the bones and coffin remains and dump them, along with the top soil from the mound, to use as landscaping material for the ornamental rose garden being created in Palmeira Square. It’s strange to think that the chieftain’s bones are still buried there somewhere. So, do spare our Beowulf-type hero a thought the next time you stroll through…
I was amazed to discover all this when I first moved to Hove, and excitedly told everyone. Surprisingly, no one seemed to know much about it. But, I couldn’t stop thinking about this mysterious burial, and why they would have been laid to rest with this curious cup crafted from amber all those years ago. And so, the germ of The Amber Pendant began!
The amber cup is displayed at the Hove Museum, it is a wonderful object and well worth a visit. It featured in the BBC’s A History of the World in a 100 Objects a few years ago. It also inspired my first book for children aged 8+ THE AMBER PENDANT, first of THE ROSE MUDDLE MYSTERIES (Usborne). Which is set in Edwardian Hove and is full of dark magic and local mystery.
I love local history, and enjoy writing creatively about my findings. I believe everywhere has amazing secrets waiting to be uncovered – even in our towns and cities. Do let me know if you find anything out in your area. I also visit schools – inspiring kids to find out more about local history wherever they live. Please contact me for more information – I would love to hear from you!
To find out about other historical details that inspired the The Amber Pendant, visit Usborne’s brilliant Quicklinks here: